How To Clean Your Engine Bay
Beneath your hood lies a dirty wasteland. Let’s make it shiny!
Beneath your hood lies a vast array of pipes, hoses, turbochargers, intercoolers, radiators, wires, fuses, intakes, and other engine components. Although you’d think a closed hood would protect the engine from the elements, there’s no floor to keep them pristine. Likewise, hoses fail, oil leaks, and all types of things can drip and drop, each leading to the need for a good cleaning.
Unlike a car’s exterior, which we regularly wash, engine bays aren’t pampered nearly as much. Without attention, that dirt, debris, and oil can gunk up your car’s workings, potentially start a fire, and cause engine, steering, and suspension issues. That’s why The Drive’s info team suggests popping the hood, grabbing the hose, and going to town on your car’s engine bay every time you wash your car’s paint. For those who’ve never washed a car’s engine bay before, don’t worry—we’ll walk you through it. Follow our steps, and your ride will come out the other side looking fresh and clean.
Cleaning an Engine Bay Basics
Estimated Time Needed: 30 minutes
Skill Level: Beginner
Vehicle System: Engine
Common Dirt, Debris, and Oils You’ll Find in an Engine Bay
Here’s a list of common spills and splatters you’ll find in an engine bay as curated by The Drive’s editors based on their decades of experience.
The most common spill or splatter is dirt and mud. Puddles, off-road adventures, and the daily dirt and debris you encounter have a habit of entering your engine bay.
Engine oil can seep out around gaskets, explode from hoses, and spill across the top of the engine when you’re doing an oil change. Oils can also be thrown up into the engine bay from the ground.
As with engine oil, transmission fluid has the potential to spray across the engine bay if something catastrophic happens. That said, if you see a big spray of transmission fluid, you likely have bigger worries than a clean engine bay.
Because the brake master cylinder is mounted near the top of the engine on most cars, spills and splatters can quickly dirty an engine bay.
We’ve all been there when a radiator overheats, blows its top, and shoots scalding coolant over the piping-hot engine bay. Steam and the fluorescent liquid erupt, and the bay looks like you just murdered an alien.
Everything You’ll Need To Clean an Engine Bay
We’re not psychic, nor are we snooping through your toolbox or garage, so here’s exactly what you’ll need to get the job done.
Organizing your tools and gear so everything is easily reachable will save precious minutes waiting for your handy-dandy child or four-legged helper to bring you the sandpaper or blowtorch. (You won't need a blowtorch for this job. Please don’t have your kid hand you a blowtorch—Ed.)
You’ll also need a flat workspace, such as a garage floor, driveway, or street parking that’s also well-ventilated. Check your local laws to make sure you’re not violating any codes when using the street because we aren’t getting your ride out of the clink.
Here’s How To Clean an Engine Bay
Cleaning your engine bay is all about how detailed you want to go. And by all means, go as deep into every crevice and cranny as you’d like. There’s always more hidden dirt and leftover oil. But to get you started, here’s The Drive’s guide for how to clean your engine bay.
- Pop the hood.
- Double check that all caps and hoses are secured.
- Rinse the engine bay with a hose or, if available, a power washer.
- Using a towel, wipe down the large components, making sure you remove any oil or built-up grease.
- With another towel, work your way through the smaller components until the engine looks like it did the day you bought it. You can use a scrub brush or toothbrush if you want to get every nook and cranny.
- Rinse and repeat steps 4 and 5 until you are pleased with the engine’s cleanliness.
Pro Tips to Clean an Engine Bay
The Drive’s editors have washed countless rides over the years, and we’ve picked up a handful of pro tips along the way. Lucky for you, we’re in a sharing mood.
- Wash your engine bay after your car has cooled down. If you wash it while it’s hot, it could produce steam that can crack plastics, corrode wires, or scald you.
- Wear clothes with soft surfaces. Jeans, for example, have metal bits that could scratch the car.
- If you’re washing your engine bay by hand, use the two-bucket method so as to not bring dirt, contaminants, and debris back into the engine bay.
When you’re tackling the process of cleaning your car’s engine bay for the first time, it’s a good idea to get a sense of how to handle different kinds of dirt, debris, and filth before you actually get your hands dirty. From helpful products to the right technique, you’ll want to check out a sneak peek of what awaits.
That’s why we picked Chemical Guys’ guide on how to clean your vehicle’s engine bay. With diluted cleaning solution and a pressure washer, you’ll learn how to get the components in your engine bay sparkling clean and how to protect the more sensitive parts from getting wet or soaked with cleaning solution.
FAQs About Cleaning an Engine Bay
You’ve got questions, The Drive’s info team has answers!
Q: How Much Does It Cost To Clean an Engine Bay?
A: Almost nothing. All you’ll need is a hose and some soap. You’ll maybe spend $15-$20 altogether.
Q: Is It Safe To Spray Your Engine With Water?
A: Your engine bay is always getting wet from the pouring rain, water puddles, or because you need to get across an overflowing river. (Don’t try that, Ms. Oregon Trail.) It’s fine to wash your engine—just be careful where and how close you use the pressure washer. Always dial the pressure down to prevent damaging plugs or tearing things off.
Q: Can I Pressure Wash My Engine Bay?
A: You absolutely can. However, you do need to pay attention to the pressure. If it’s too high, you could damage your engine’s hoses, wires, and other parts that aren’t metal. If you see something dangling or loose while you’re using it, stop.
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